Two No More
Six months later………………..
A chubby fist grabbed hold of Zuko's robes, scrunching the fabric tightly and wrinkling the expensive silk. Miyako's face was red from a combination of effort and frustration. She pulled on the piece of material, trying vainly to stand up. Failing, the nine month old sat back down on her diapered bottom and wailed.
"Almost made it, little one," Zuko smiled as he scooped up his daughter and held her on his lap, placing an affectionate kiss on the top of her head.
It was the weekend. Mai, Zuko and the twins relaxed in the nursery, the adults with a pot of tea and some biscuits, the twins with their toys and the entire room to explore. Late winter in the Fire Nation tended to be rainy and this day was typical. Sheets of rain beat against the windows and the wind was gusty and cool. Cold never happened on the chain of tropical islands, but cool did occasionally. The day was a perfect one to spend inside reading, writing letters or just doing nothing.
Zuko loved these days, spending time with his little family. They rejuvenated him, prepared him for the week of hard work ahead. Mai loved them too. Though Zuko made time for his family every day, sometimes she felt it wasn't enough and then she promptly felt guilt for mentally whining. The knife thrower knew he did his best. Still, she missed him.
Mai attended a few meetings a week. She helped Zuko one afternoon every week and trained for one and a half hours three times a week. Midori was a blessing. The rest of her time was occupied with the twins, who at nine months were both crawling expertly and getting into mischief. They didn't nurse nearly as often, ate quite a bit of solid food and slept through the night, but their mobility more than took up the slack. She was exhausted at the end of every day. Ursa insisted on helping out, taking the twins for an evening so that her son and daughter-in-law could have time alone to do whatever they wanted. They had romantic dinners at home or snuck out into the city incognito just to look around, holding hands and running down streets like a pair of naughty children afraid of being caught.
Mai yawned and leaned her head against Zuko's shoulder, coming face to face with her daughter. Miyako reached out for her mother's hair and pulled, eliciting a grimace from the woman.
"You need to stop pulling my hair," Mai stated with absolutely no seriousness at all.
The baby laughed, showing off two tiny bottom teeth, and little bubbles of spit appeared along her lips.
"You even look adorable with spit on your face, and you know it," Mai continued.
Miyako giggled again and reached once more for her mother. Mai sat up and took the girl from Zuko, cuddling her close to her chest and burying her nose in the even thicker mass of black hair on Miyako's head.
"Where's Ryuhito?" Mai asked.
"He's playing with the stuffed dragon over there," Zuko pointed.
Hearing his name, the little boy crawled speedily over to the group, wanting to join in on the fun.
"Hey you," Zuko called as he snatched the boy up and bounced him on his knee.
Ryuhito laughed until breathless and waved his hands about, clearly enjoying the ride. Once Zuko stopped, the prince wriggled out of Zuko's hold and was back on the floor, crawling away to an unexplored section of the room.
"I've been thinking," Mai began, giving her husband a look.
He raised his eyebrow and waited for her to continue.
"I enjoy all this," she said, looking around at the room, her husband and her children.
"Okay," Zuko said.
"I was worried about becoming a mother and I never pictured myself with a bunch of children, but……I'd like to have another baby."
"You would?" the Fire Lord asked excitedly.
"Yeah, I would; not right now, maybe in a year or so we can start trying."
"Yes, I'm sure. I would like the twins to have a little brother or sister. Neither of us has large families. I would like ours to grow a little bit more. You want another one too, right?"
Zuko leaned over to give Miyako another kiss. "How could I not want another one?" he grinned. "Look at them! I love them so much and I love you and, and I'm happier than I ever thought possible, Mai."
"That's a definite yes, then," the knife thrower said with consummate dryness.
A knock on the nursery door interrupted the joyful moment.
"It's me, Mai," Akira called through the thick wood. "I've brought your brother."
Grumbling under her breath, Mai got up and opened the door, Miyako on her hip and eyes scanning the room for Ryuhito. If he was close to the door the little boy would make an escape attempt. He was safely on the other side of the room, sucking on a very tattered looking toy dragon. Tom-Tom burst by her, blurting out a hello, and sat down on the couch beside Zuko. He immediately began telling the Fire Lord all about his day so far. Akira hovered in the doorway, unsure what to do.
"Why don't you come in for some tea?" Mai asked politely but with no real warmth.
Mai and her parents still struggled to find some sort of lasting peace. They were civil with each other and Hoshi and Akira spent some time with the twins, but neither party seemed quite able to let go of old resentments. Zuko kept saying that time would help them all grow more comfortable with each other, but time was taking too long.
Akira nodded, a tight smile on her lips, and entered the room. Tom-Tom tensed. Mai gestured to a chair across from the sofa and Akira sat. She nodded at Zuko who nodded back, then gave his attention back to Mai's brother. Mai placed Miyako on the floor, smiling as she watched her daughter scamper away to find Ryuhito, then asked Zuko to warm the tea. He did so and then Mai poured her mother a cup. She pushed the plate of biscuits over closer to Akira.
"Thank you, Mai."
"Tom-Tom was bored stuck in the house so he asked to come over here. I hope it's alright."
"It's fine. Tom-Tom's always welcome."
"Yes, well, I'll finish my tea, see the twins for a minute and be on my way."
Akira did just that. She drank the tea as quickly as perfect noblewoman behavior permitted, gave each child a quick hug and once over and then left with a curt goodbye.
"Oh," she said, turning around just before she opened the door, "please send Tom-Tom home in two hours. We're having an important dinner tonight and I want lots of time to get him cleaned up and ready."
The boy groaned which earned him a sharp look from his mother.
"He'll be there," Zuko assured Akira.
Zuko waited at the airship field for his mother to make her return from Shimazu Island. Every week without fail when she was home in the Fire Nation, Ursa paid Azula a visit. All those visits, all those hours spent with her daughter, and still very little change had occurred in the young woman. The Fire Lord spotted the approaching airship, though it was hard to see in a sky filled with pastel swipes of color from the setting sun. As soon as it touched ground, Zuko walked briskly to the ship. The captain gave his liege a bow and Zuko helped his mother clamber down.
"Thank you, Captain Kinto," Ursa smiled.
"A pleasure as always, My Lady," he replied with a flourish.
"Hey, is he flirting with you?" Zuko asked, his voice tinted with just a hint of both righteous indignation and protectiveness.
"Zuko," Ursa replied with a shake of her head. "He's being gracious. We are stuck together on this ship for quite a few hours every week; don't you think it a good idea that we get along?"
"Yeah, sure, I suppose so," Zuko replied grudgingly.
"And what if he was flirting with me? Would that be so bad? I'm certainly not bound to Ozai in any way. If I want to flirt, I will. I'm still attractive and have a lot to offer."
Zuko's face was pink, both from embarrassment at the thought of his mother flirting and Agni knows what else, and his stupid reaction to the captain's simple goodbye. He sighed loudly and bowed his head.
"Sorry, Mom, you can flirt anytime you want, not that you need my permission. I mean, if you want to find, um, companionship, I think that's great."
Ursa grabbed Zuko's face with both her hands and looked deep into his eyes, those golden eyes that showed everything Zuko felt.
"My life feels quite full right now. I'm enjoying my time with you and your family. I love you all very much. I have my hobbies, the garden, and my books. Azula's condition is a heartache and I'm doing my best to help her. I still feel guilt over what I did all those years ago and how it affected my children. Right now, I don't have the energy to go out looking for a man. But if one happens along and I like him, I am willing to try."
"Oh, okay, Mom; I understand. How did the visit go today?"
The middle-aged woman took her son's hand and they walked across the field and back toward the palace.
"It was the same. I talked. She either ignored me or sneered at what I said. I can't seem to break through that, that, oooh, that veneer she wears. It would be better if she got angry. But she doesn't. It's like she finds us all so very amusing and far beneath her."
Zuko listened attentively, not saying anything about his sister. After a few moments of silence, he took his mother's elbow and guided her along the stone walkway that led to the palace.
"Come on, Mom, Mai's waiting for us. Dinner will be ready."
Indeed, dinner was ready. Mai sat at the dining table and rose when Zuko and Ursa entered the room.
"You didn't have to wait dear."
"I know, but we wanted to."
They said the same thing every week after Ursa's return; it was like a comforting ritual. The Fire Lord pulled a chair out for his mother and then sat down beside his wife.
"Are the twins asleep?" Zuko asked.
Mai nodded. "They ate dinner. I gave them a bath and then they both conked out. They played very hard today."
Ursa laughed. "They are quite a pair," she observed.
"Poor Ryuhito," Mai began, "now that he's finally got some hair, Miyako pulls on it mercilessly."
"Sibling rivalry," Zuko stated a bit darkly.
"Don't be dramatic, Zuko," Mai replied with a roll of her eyes. "Miyako pulls on everyone's hair."
"Well, I'm hungry, you two. Let's eat."
The trio began their meal, several dishes kept warm in covered trays. The conversation ebbed and flowed, from talk of the latest letter from Iroh, plans to visit Ba Sing Se again in a few weeks, the twins, Azula, the gardens and the weather.
"Mom, Mai and I came to a decision while you were gone."
Zuko looked over at Mai before continuing. She gave him a nod and a half smile; permission granted.
"We want to have another baby."
Ursa squealed like a child on festival morning.
"That's wonderful news….another baby to love. And you two are doing such a great job with the twins. I'm excited."
"Well," Mai said neutrally, "it won't be for a while yet. I was thinking of waiting a year or so before worrying about it."
"Sure, that makes sense," Ursa agreed with a bright smile. "It's still hard for me to believe. I'll look at you two sometimes and see the shy little girl with ribbons, blushing at the sight of my son, and my little boy, so full of feelings, playing in the garden with his special knife. I missed so much," she said, voice suddenly regretful.
"Mom," Zuko said softly, covering her hand with his own.
"I know, I know, snap out of it," Ursa joked. "I've had a long day. Don't think me rude if I go to bed now."
"Go, Ursa," Mai urged. "We'll be retiring soon ourselves."
"Goodnight then," Ursa said.
She gave the Fire Lord and his wife each a hug before leaving the room and heading to her own quarters.
An hour later, Zuko and Mai were in their own bed. It was a cool evening and Mai shivered, pulling the sheet and blanket up to her chin.
"Good weekend?" Zuko asked.
"Good," Mai smiled.
"You know," the Fire Lord stated, "I can warm you up much better than that blanket can."
"What are you waiting for?" Mai asked.
He drew her close to him, wrapping strong arms around her slight frame and blowing heated breath onto her neck. Mai pushed back into Zuko, absorbing every scrap of heat she could and sighing with contentment.
"Warmer now?" he whispered into her ear.
"Yes," Mai replied softly. "Warm now."
Author's Note: I hope this epilogue brings everything to a nice conclusion. But there are a few sequel possibilities tucked in there as well.
Darth Ultor brought up a point a while ago. Which twin will be the heir? Easy answer….Ryuhito because he was born first, if only by a few minutes. But there's an interesting discussion going on at the forums about the possibility of a non bending Fire Lord. If Ryuhito turns out to be a non bender, while Miyako is a bender, who do you think should/would become heir? Which tradition would Zuko and Mai follow…first born is heir or Fire Lords (at least the ones we know of) are all benders? That could make for an interesting story.
I'm toying with the idea of expanding on Ursa's history next, with 'that fateful night' as the sort of central focus of the story, but with flashbacks to give us an idea of how she came to be Ozai's wife and what her life was like before. I haven't decided yet.
Anyway, I digress. Thanks to all of you who stuck with this story from beginning to end. I love the characters of Mai and Zuko to death and the whole Avatar world itself. They and it provide endless fodder for fanfic. It's a joy to write something that others who love Maiko appreciate.
Again, special thanks to those who review (my most consistent reviewers deserve special thanks…..gloomy maiko lover, Kimjuni2, JillRG, Darth Ultor).